Anatoliy Tymoshchuk summed up the mood perfectly after FC Zenit lost 4-2 to Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their round of 16 tie, saying his side require "a miracle" to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
It was a disappointing night for the hosts, and one that might have been easily avoided. Throughout the group stage, Zenit suffered from defensive problems, conceding nine goals en route to qualifying with a record low six points. The Russian winter break should have given Luciano Spalletti two months to iron out these difficulties ahead of the visit of last season's UEFA Champions League runners-up. However, they were two down after just five minutes on Tuesday – tie effectively over.
After reducing the deficit to one goal on two occasions in the second half, the team from Russia's second city were guilty of conceding just moments after scoring themselves, thus handing the initiative straight back to Dortmund. Zenit now need to get three away goals to stand any chance of progressing. What will be particularly frustrating for Spalletti is that the Bundesliga outfit appeared to have rearguard frailties of their own.
The difference between the two sides boiled down to their ruthlessness in front of goal, something the Sine-Belo-Golubye have struggled to show all season. Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski were in imperious form for the visitors, while Zenit were distinctly lacking a cutting edge. The signing of José Rondón from FC Rubin Kazan was supposed to help remedy this situation. However, the Venezuelan international forward was unable to make an impact due to a lack of service and support from midfield.
Barring a minor miracle, Zenit's UEFA Champions League campaign will come to a halt on 19 March and another year will pass with a Russian team failing to make the last eight. Zenit are in a good position to seal qualification for next term's competition, but they really have to start learning from their mistakes if they are to have any sort of impact in Europe's premier club tournament in the foreseeable future.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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